1938 01 The Persecution of Jews in Germany

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So few things in the back of my head

  1. It was’t just Germany. Due to the Alliance between Germany and Italy, Italy adopted its own version of racial laws, and Italian Jews also fled. The most famous person as part of this flight: Enrico Fermi (his wife was Jewish)

  2. Because there was no initial clarity from the Nazis among themselves about what to do with their Jewish populations, they came up with some crazy plans. One of them was the Havara Agreement. It basically involved moving one’s assets to (then Palestine) and oneself. This was a big deal since other jewish communities had created a boycott against Germany - and it broke the boycott. It also broke the international Jewish community apart, which itself didn’t know how to feel always about Zionism (To give you an idea - HUC, the Reform Movement’s rabbinical college, in 1920 came out against the San Remo conference agreement). It causes actual assassinations.

The initial British administrator of thw Mandate liked the Zionist Cause, so he was game for this. However, The arab population did not like this, and it provoked massive responses across the arab world, including in the mandate, which led to a revolt. Going into the Evian conference, Britain was forced to close the doors.

One weird side effect of this if you like art history: Bezalel School of Art in jerusalem takes a distinctly Bauhaus direction. So does Tel Aviv, which now has chunks of it labeled an UNESCO world heritage site.

  1. Public and Private are 2 different things. The US, while severely restricting immigration, decided to actually overdo the quota because Roosevelt was Roosevelting. It appears that this idea of a “racial problem” had infected everywhere (except the dominican republic), despite Jesse owens.

  2. The kindertransport was driven by a partnership between British quakers and Jews. It was an exception to their closing of the Doors at evian, and in a lot of ways, it was poorly managed because they were so concerned at the start at getting kids out that they didn’t know where they were going to place them. The Nazis also wanted the project to fail and tried overloading the aid workers as well as prohibited the use of German ports. This definitely didn’t work. I’m named for someone on one of those trains

Jewish youth movements involved with Zionism took up a lot of slack because of missing placements. My Great Aunt ended up helping establish a kibbutz, and I wonder if its due to this influence

5)The Jewish community was discussing what was going on, why doors were closed. And the one of the largest Jewish community in the world at the time was, the US. Before this point, while Jewish people had participated in every major US military conflict, it wasn’t like there was a cultural drive to go enlist in the army, especially among the most recent wave of immigrants from the Pale (the Czar’s army was very antisemtic), people’s letters from family, news from the Forward, started to change that attitude. This caused American Jews to speculate about if America was going to go to war with Europe and if they did, enlisting. And they did, a lot. Basically, the events of 1938-1939 are the start of the Americanization of the jewish community here en mass, and what it means to be jewish in the US

which explains why on my father’s side, why I have pictures of my (not) nebbishy grandfather in Us military uniform in Belgium. And why there are tons of stories of Jewish american ww2 that are incredibly strange involving translation nonsense.

PS: Because I forgot to say this. The word ashkenaz (as in ashkenazi jews) is a reference to the Ashkenaz Kingdom, and has been literally tied to Germany as Ashekanz since the 11th century. SO what’s happening is really sad in the context of jewish history, since it’s almost a thousand years of a jewish community being destroyed (and rebuilt! Berlin has currently the fastest growing jewish community in the world, if I am not mistaken)


One last important thought

To discuss the whole set of controversies surrounding the Havara Agreement, you need to have a discussion (or background) on what Judaism is and isn’t. The problem is right now, you’ve been framing Judaism as a religion, with what appears to me (and I might be misinterpreting you) from a protestant modern kantian pietistic worldview.

Judaism definitely doesn’t work like that. It’s also not clear that it is a religion (which is why most scholars of Jewish history, Jewish sociology, and Jewish religion put it as an ethnoreligious group)

The period leading up to ww1, and to some degree afterward, among Ashkenazim (Sephardim and Eidot Mizrachi Jewish communities appear to be excluded from the conversation, with the minor exception of Spanish-Portuguese community in the US, but they are tiny), is a period of huge intellectual foment due to the Haskalah about the nature of what Judaism is.

There is, in fact, an entire book on this subject alone (that gets recommended to me by Jewish historians and rabbis - “How Judaism Became a Religion” by Leora Batnitzky https://www.amazon.com/How-Judaism-Became-Religion-Introduction/dp/0691160139/

Different movements, people, are all coming up with different ideas about what is Judaism, how one should behave (which is important, because Judaism never was doxy driven), what its future would be.

In 1930, it’s not clear if the Chazon Ish is more right than Herzl or Geiger or Simon Dubnow (Ultra-orthodox reactionary, Zionist, Reform Movement, Yiddishist). The Nazis disrupt the argument.

The questions they started have never been resolved, and I would argue that some of the political calculations made by the founding of state of Israel at its founding vs the direction of behaviors of the Jewish population in the states over time made parts of this argument worse, but that’s outside of the scope of what you need.

It’s a major reason why there was no unified response and why it broke the boycott, as well as how the Nazis got away with racializing German Jews as refugees. The Ashkenazi community didn’t know what it was and couldn’t project a unified definition and response. Th\e Nazis had a clear definition and message (a wrong one, but it was clear)

The other thing of note: while conversion, cheating, intermarriage, other definitions are a thing, endogamy was more common in all Jewish communities. Ancestor collapse in genealogical studies occurs much more quickly in Jewish trees. Scarily so. A not uncommon thing to happen today when someone in a Jewish community gets engaged is for someone to say “Mazel Tov! Do you need the name of a genetic counselor?” because 2 randomly Ashkenazim with a chazakah they are definitely Ashkenazim are roughly the genetic equivalent of 4th cousins. The genetic distance between Ashkenazim and Sephardim or Eidot Mizrachi is not great either. Population genetics in Jewish people is REALLY complicated - but for the sake of public health among Jewish people, however, you may define it, it is important to state that tree collapse causes genetic disease problems and you should get screened before having kids, as well as potentially change your cancer screening schedule (Breast Cancer is bad, so is Tay-Sachs, so is Maple Syrup Disease, get screened!)


The last bit I think you need to talk about

Joe Kennedy (the original), Father Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, Ford, and elements of populism

while I am going to skip Ford because you already have a youtube video about him, one of the things you mentioned is his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which beyond having crazy antisemitic editorials, ALSO had a populist nationalism streak. And as a media outlet or popular figure of 1930s American culture, it wasn’t the only cultural outlet with this valence: Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh both had this valence as well. Charles Coughlin was popular up until 1939 when the antisemitism turned into too much as Hitler rose to power - but his views on populism, nationalism, and economics did act as check on FDR, who he claimed was taken in by Wall Street Bankers (aka Goldman Sachs in an era when the only reason Goldman Sachs existed was because Goldman and Sachs as yekkim[1] couldn’t merge with the protestant banks even as they were handling millions in paper - Coughlin was specific with his language and used the term moneychangers, which is winking antisemitism) He had a reach of approximately 30 million (in the era before Neilsen measured.). He’s bolstered by people like Charles Lindbergh, who also was antisemitic and VERY isolationist (though it didn’t stop him from getting the Service Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler), with a family that trafficked historically in conflating economics and antisemitism. He turned America First Committee into an astroturf PAC-like thing for populist isolationist nazi likers in the US in 39, but he had been publicly trafficking in antisemitism for a while. And he was popular, a hero with a horrible tragedy because of the kidnapping and death of his baby.

They whipped people up about a minority group which frankly, most people in the US never interacted with (Grazel puts the Jewish population in the US right before ww2 as 4,770,000 people[2]): about half of Jewish people lived in NYC (and most of the rest in big cities primarily on the east coast. And they did it by getting at people about their most emotional issue in one of the weakest periods of the US - the depression.

FDR didn’t see the world this way, but he had a VERY rogue ambassador who was antisemitic in one Joe Kennedy[3]. Nasaw, one of his more recent biographers, points out that he was desperate to appease Hitler, to the point where Kenndey was upset that Britain’s RAF kicked ass during the Blitz. Joe Kennedy was vice-chair of the Evian Conference. To be fair to him, he had his moments where some of the antisemitism was moderated to the point where he put himself out to make sure Jewish people were part of consular staff and he helped resettle some Jewish children, but he traveled in circles with Lindbergh and Coughlin and didn’t petition his own government to allow refugees off the St Louis. He supposedly, according to his own aide, responded to Kristallnacht with “Well, they brought it on themselves” when he found out what happened. he also was frankly nasty to the Boston Jewish community in his business dealings.

While groups like the Joint and the AJC did speak out (and even non-jews, despite the rampant antisemitism of the era, there’s always been a strain of American Beliefs and reasons for freedom of religion against it, which is why there are Jewish communities here and have been since before the founding), they weren’t able to influence the Jewish presence in media for two reasons

  1. In the case of Hollywood, most were recent immigrants and outright made nervous by antisemitism, something many had already experienced in much greater depth before immigrating. They didn’t want to stir that up and create the same fervor they saw in Europe

  2. In the case of the news media which was dominated by yekke Reform Jewish families who immigrated in around 1820s as part of a larger german immigration pattern,( like the Sultzbergers -NYtimes) resisted because of mixtures of fears of antisemitism, a frank dislike for their more recent immigrant brethren who primarily cames from places like the pale as uncouth[4], wanting to be seen as integrated into America (particularly its elites), and a strain of pro-local nationalism before Judaism in late 1800s/early 1900s reform movement doctrine. [5]

So, going into the Evian conference, there’s no one really out there to speak seriously for the Jewish community from the US, nor willing to put pressure on the US government to take an active pro-refugee stance. And there’s a lot of media promoting isolationism, appeasement and latent and explicit antisemitism. So even though the US was a great power, there was no desire to be philo-semetic. Instead, you see the peak of American Antisemitism (historically) in the broader culture[6]. Polling done in that era (through 1945) suggests America had an antisemitism problem.[7]

FDR wasn’t willing to speak out because he was animated by the jewish people here (many of whom were active in labor movements that supported him and his policies). 15% of his advisors were Jewish, and he was nervous about how his coalition was already perceived and could be broken up.

[1]yekke - german jews. yekkim is the plural https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yekke
[2] he’s getting those numbers from a survey done in 1937 by AJC http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1941_1942_9_Statistics.pdf Some fun facts - Wyoming had 2 synagogues but under 1000 Jewish people in the entire state, making that joke about a Jewish guy on a deserted island building 2 synagogues kinda true! Also fun fact, 550,000 Jewish people ended up serving in ww2, and those were heavily clustered among men in a very specific age bracket, so going by these numbers it works out that something like half of all Jewish male population in the peak age brackets for enlistment served. I wasn’t kidding when I said earlier the Jewish population was very upset over Hilter.
[3] full disclosure. My father’s father family (which is very Jewish) came into the port of Boston and got into nasty real estate fights with Joe Kennedy that had more than a tinge of antisemitism involved in the insults shared, due to the clustering of Jewish people and Irish Catholics in South Boston before the Jewish population fled the Dorchester neighborhoods for places like Milton and Brookline as part of white flight.
[4] despite setting up aid organizations for them, aka the background behind HIAS. Also despite the slightly Ashkenazi but mostly Spanish-Portuguese dislike of the yekkim who came first. History rhymes.
[5] Look up point 5 of the Pittsburgh Platform - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Platform while there’s another platform, the Columbus Platform published in 1937 that gets into discussions of Israel and Zionism because they see what’s going on in Europe with Nazis, theologically the reform community at this point is divided over Israel, Zionism, nationalism, theology, and religion. Some of this is an old/new reform movement issue. Older generations were still stuck on the ideas of the Pittsburgh Platform (and its points end up being labeled Classical Reform Judaism). There’s an entire book on Sulzberger and his editorial pov vis a vis his Judaism and how it reflected his coverage of nazi atrocities https://www.amazon.com/dp/0521607825/ref=nosim/?tag=columbiajou0b-20
[6] I’m fully aware of the shootings, ect, going on now. it’s not the same in that there’s no mass consensus on say, housing covenants, or won’t be allowed in the Fountainbleu in florida, or quotas at the Ivies and little Ivies
[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260604054_American_Opinion_Toward_Jews_During_the_Nazi_Era_Results_from_Quota_Sample_Polling_During_the_1930s_and_1940s